The White Dwarf Flies Again!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Oh lookie here a pedal powered personal airship!
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.
KJ

The White Dwarf Flies Again!
 
What's up with the blimp?
It's the White Dwarf, built by Bill Watson and others for the comedian Gallagher in about 1984.  This beautiful and innovative pedal-powered was used by Gallagher to do a Showtime special,  Bryan Allen flew it 58 miles to set an FAI world record for that class airship, Bill and friends took it to Oshkosh, and then they put it behind Bill Watson's parents' house, where it stayed for about 14 years.
Reed Gleason had been enjoying various ways to fly, and noticed that the slower he went, the more fun it was.   He decided he wanted a blimp, and contacted Bill Arras, an acquaintance from serious hang gliding days.  Bill Arras wanted a blimp too, and set about finding out how to build a small blimp, partly by contacting people who'd built small blimps.
Bill Arras found that Bill Watson still had the WD and it was just plain going to waste.   Bill Watson figured Bill Arras, being World Champion  Hot Air Balloonist, would make sure the WD would be used for the forces of good, and Gallagher didn't want to have anything more to do with it, so it was brought to Oregon.  It sat in it's custom trailer while Bill and Reed discovered one reason why there aren't a lot more little blimps:  We couldn't find a place tall enough to fit it.  Eventually, Bill found a hangar with a 25 foot door was found at the Madras Airport, which is a delight, because the airport is large and largely unused.  And the flight service station owner Don Mobley thought the blimp was really great, made room for it in one of his hangars, and generally provided a lot of support.. So Bill and Reed moved the White Dwarf to Madras, OR, assembled and inflated it Sept. 30, 2000, and first flew it Oct.  3.
It actually worked.  It's beautiful construction is less important than the fact that it does what it was supposed to do, a rarity in small airships.  Which is to putter around very slowly with precise control, only in very light winds.
Here's some pictures courtesy of Q, a powered parachute pilot.
Three 50K jpgs.
Bill Arras added a couple of string trimmer 19cc engines with model airplane props.  With a little peddling to help, he average 10 MPH for an hour.  When he peddled hard in addition to full throttle, he got up to about 15 MPH, and then the envelope went unstable, as predicted.  Of course, the consequences of "going unstable" in the WD are a lot less significant than for most aircraft:  the nose wandered a bit and he slowed down.
Here's some pictures courtesy of Richard Tetz.  Richard Tetz himself, the engine setup, and Bill again exploring Willow Creek canyon.
 Three 200K jpgs
More pictures by Richard Tetz:   his photo page.

 
WHITE DWARF SPECS

Year built:  1985
Designed and built by:  Bill Watson
Built for:  Gallagher, the comedian
Dimensions
        Envelope length:  48'
        Maximum diameter:  17'
        Volume:  6200 cubic feet
        Overall height:  27"
Weights
        Empty:  140 lbs.
        Pilot weight range:  90-250 lbs.
        Maximum take-off weight:  390 lbs.
Performance
       Maximum level speed:  12 mph
       Average cruising speed:  6-7 mph
Construction
        Envelope:  Helium filled, non-rigid polyurethane coated nylon.
        Helium maintained at average slight pressure of 0.02  lbs/sq. in.  No ballonets.
       Fuselage:  Open framework structure of 2024 T3 and 7075 T6 aluminum, stressed to 4+ Gs, attached to the envelope by  24 Dacron sheathed Kevlar lines.
       Ballasting: two water ballast tanks with pilot-controlled drains and up to 60 lbs. of lead ballast control buoyancy.
       Venting:  A three-inch diameter plug alongside the seat can be lifted by the pilot to vent helium.  It opens automatically at a pressure of 4 inches of water.
       Aerodynamic controls:  Large Mylar covered styrofoam and spruce rudder.
       Passengers:  pilot only
       Power system:  Pedal power, producing approx. 10 lbs. of  cruise thrust via 4:1 gearing and plastic chain drive to a two-blade pusher propeller made of spruce and Styrofoam.
       Propeller can be vectored up and down for vertical control.
Misc.
        Cost to fill:  approx. $1000.00
        FAI World for Duration, Class B Airships, BA-1 through BA-10, achieved by pilot Bryan Allen in 1985.

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